First of all, thank you for being here reading this. Second, please only continue with an open heart. For this first post of my new blogging venture, I am starting, as Pema Chodron says, "where you are." I am here - on my couch, nursing my babe, two months postpartum, and deep in the waves of motherhood and reflection. I have decided to share intimate and personal details of our birth stories in hopes of normalizing, holding space, and validating all births - even with intervention - as beautiful, miraculous experiences, and to shine light on the very real experiences of postpartum. My intention is not to say one way is the right way, or my experience is holier than others. Rather, my intention is to share in honesty my transformational experiences. I do truly believe I am forever changed on the level of Spirit through my journeys into and through motherhood.
For those who do not know me, I’m Tori. Mother to two amazing souls, partner to my best friend; mediation & yoga teacher - passionate about the practices of mind, body and soul; retired artist with a knack for conceptual work; daughter, sister, cousin and friend.
This story starts back years before my first child was born, before I moved west, when I was thriving and living the good life in Washington, DC. Yoga teacher by day, artist by night, writing and mediating every morning, and celebrating creativity and Obama-era DC hotspots on the weekends. Then, in 2012, I received my first astrological chart reading. During which, I was told that within two years I’d move across the country for love and be rapidly on my way to married with children - it was written in the stars. I literally laughed out loud at the unlikely reality of this storyline. But, as my astrologer started using exact names of people in my life, and details there is no way she could know, she got my attention. Maybe she was right, maybe I was destined to be a wife and mother.
I ended the session in complete disbelief of what I heard, and was unknowingly about to embark on almost the exact course laid out by the cosmos. Before I knew it, I quit my job at my beloved yoga studio, ended my commitment to the gallery I co-ran, finished up a few final exhibitions and packed my bags for love in Seattle. The next few years played out almost exactly as she predicted and by 2015, I found myself living in Portland, OR married to my best friend John and pregnant with our first child. Thank you Pam in Providence, as you said, the universe has a plan.
My Cesarean Made Me Feel Like We are Superhumans Part 1 of 3 - Josephine Greer Newburn
What follows is the birth story with our daughter Josephine. Some of you may have heard this tale before, but this is the first time I have put it into written word. Admittedly, I feel vulnerable sharing these details of our lives. I've rewritten it a few times, trying to 'make it shorter or more engaging' but, honestly, this account is just how it was. Pure and simple, I'm playing a reel from the film of our lives. And to repeat, I'm sharing this with an honest open heart, so please receive it that way. We are all human. We all came from our mothers - this is an indisputable fact. We all have a story of how we came into this world. One story is not better than another. One story is not more 'human' or 'natural' than another. Rather, we are all human and all apart of this natural world, so, however we come into this world is by definition natural and I'd argue, miraculous.
Keep reading if your curious heart is guiding.
Pregnancy came easy for us - almost too easy. And because we know this is not the story for many of our beloved friends and family, we are beyond grateful for this fact. The truth is we got caught off guard. While we had wanted to be become pregnant, Josephine decided to arrive in her own time and earlier than we had planned. After a literal gut feeling during a yoga practice and positive pregnancy test, we found out a little soul was on the way. The next nine months found us living in our studio apartment in NW Portland, planning our wedding and preparing to welcome our first soul earthside. It’s important to note that John and I were a bit naive about the whole birthing process. But, as good liberal arts students and curious minds, we dove straight into books, resources and the Portland birthing community, absorbing all of the details and options available.
We landed with an amazing care team blocks away from our house and decided to deliver at the birthing center in the hospital just down the street from where we were living. Our pregnancy was categorically “easy.” I co-led a yoga retreat in Mexico at five months pregnant, attended a retreat at six months pregnant, took our wedding vows at eights months and continued daily walks, weekend hikes, yoga, meditation, art creation, and establishing life and community in PDX. We were falling in love with this precious human, while she was growing, kicking and hiccuping in my belly.
Labor started a bit early, 38 weeks, at home on a Tuesday morning. We had planned an unmedicated birth at the birthing center and per our birth plan, we would labor at home as long as possible. Early labor felt safe and sweet - long baths, Tracy Chapman on repeat, naps on the couch and meditations in the comfort of our home. By Tuesday evening, things slowed down a bit and I got into bed to sleep. Waking up to pop, my water broke at home and we were full steam ahead. We walked to the hospital at 3am Wednesday morning feeling jittery but excited. The birthing suite was quiet and welcoming. As we set up our altar, put out the candles and made the space sacred, we felt we were “ready." With our printed out birth plan, playlist, breathing techniques and preferred birthing methods, we were prepared, and our team was totally on board to make this the birthing experience we wanted.
The day progressed, so did our labor. I felt empowered and strong. I believed and recited “our bodies are made for this.” I was channeling into that goddess warrior space I had read and heard so much about and was doing all of the breathing techniques I teach and had been taught. By Wednesday evening, 36 hours into labor, 17 hours after my water broke, John holding me through each contraction, the doctor pulled a chair up to the bed - not a great sign. She calmly and quietly told us that I was only 5-6cm dilated, that my pelvis was tilted and my baby’s head was not aligned with my cervix. After all this time and effort, we were only half way there. Now, my friends in the birthing community say this was the pivotal moment of divergent approaches. For us, this was simply how our birth story continued.
After being presented with all of our options, we decided to get an epidural. My body needed rest, I knew that deep down. Yet, we still felt the strong desire to literally push through - I wanted to stay as close to our plan as possible and have the birth I had read about. With the lights down low, gentle music playing, we continued laboring through the night. John was able to rest, as the nursing team helped me move through various positions and I slept in short but necessary intervals. Although her heart rate was starting to have bouts of irregularities, we were progressing toward the moment of her arrival. Finally, it was time to push - more than 24hours after my water broke.
With our team present, lights still dimmed, we pushed as a group. John by my side. The care team encouraging me. I was flooded by an immense amount of sensation both physically and emotionally. After a few too many moments of being stuck, quick decisions made by us and our team, we got her out with an episiotomy and deep breath. John said, “we have our Josephine” and there she was on my chest with the sweetest smell and sounds. John cut the cord and we indulged in our first moment of skin to skin. She was here.
Many birth stories end at this moment: baby arrives, all is well, and after a few days of rest the new family returns home to nest and settle into their fresh reality. Our story falls into the other category, read: postpartum complications. We did indeed spend the next two days in the sweet, nurturing time warp that is 48hours postpartum. There was so much magic there. Skin to skin was our priority and our sweet baby girl was never out of our arms. We ordered take out, settled into our temporary nest, started to learn her cries and shared so many moments of pure joy. I was cared for round the clock and we felt held and supported.
We packed up on Saturday morning, ready to go home. This is when our course took a sharp turn. My blood pressure that morning seemed to be going up - at this time we had no idea what that meant. I assumed the stress from exhaustion, birth, not being at home were the cause. In my mind, a few good meditation sessions and a walk in the woods would get it down in no time. I was severely wrong. What we were starting to experience is the life threatening and very real experience of postpartum hypertension. Before I knew it, I was back in bed and hooked up to a blood pressure machine and an IV of medication for the next three days.
Postpartum hypertension, as we now know, is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality. As there are no overt symptoms - other than extremely high blood pressure readings, many women are sent home with a new baby, only to be readmitted after experiences like seizure or stroke. It is a very real scenario. In hindsight, we were extremely lucky this was noticed before me we left the safety of the hospital. For about 48hours my blood pressure stayed in treatable range and a few times went up to the emergent level. We were thrown into a world of medical terminology, dosages, and the wait and see cycle of how my body was going to respond to certain medications. For those who have experienced this, or may experience it, let me say here and now, whatever reaction your head and heart have to this experience it is valid. It can be down right confusing and scary to have a two day old in your arms and be hooked up to live saving medications and the constant beeping of a blood pressure cuff. So, I validate those of you who know first hand what I am describing and I wish for immediate care and smart physicians for anyone who may too experience this path.
That said, by Sunday night, we started to see the blood pressure readings go down. Our team was amazing, supportive and nurturing even in the midst of the flurry of unknowns and anxiety on our end. This whole time we still did not put Josephine down. John held her when I could not and I nursed in between the blood pressure readings, medications and doctor visits. We were becoming a unit already. Tuesday morning arrived, a week after labor started, and we were finally prepping to be discharged. My care team felt confident, I felt better, and John, as steadfast as ever, listened intently to all of the instructions, while still cradling sweet Josephine. We were sent home with multiple prescriptions, follow up appointments in the days and weeks ahead, a hospital grade blood pressure machine, and of course our sweet baby girl.
As we stepped back into our home and introduced Josephine to her new surroundings and sweet pup Scout, I couldn’t help but feel like I just dodged a bullet. It might sound dramatic, but as I reflected on those whirlwind days, I realized that without the amazing response of my medical team, I very much could have had a seizure, stroke or worse. The thoughts that I could have left behind my husband and newborn became hard to shake. Each time I laid down to take a nap or sleep, I asked John to check on me - I was legitimately scared I wouldn’t wake up. But as the days passed and my blood pressure stayed stable with the help of major medication, I regained trust in my body. It was at this time though, that the waves of postpartum depression set in, for both of us. After such a remarkable and unexpected birth story, we needed time to heal. We needed time to navigate our new life. We just needed time. Something that is very hard to come by as new parents and a plate full of life responsibilities. We did what we thought was right: get out of the house, resume normal activities, put on a happy face, visit with relatives and friends. None of which allowed for me, for us, to mentally heal in the way we needed most. Even amongst the magic of the first months of parenthood, I was not OK and did not have the words for what I was feeling, experiencing and admittedly pushing off to the sidelines.
Postpartum anxiety and depression is real for many women and men. We all experience parenthood differently. But for some of us, the waves of hormones, new realities and traumatic birth experiences, shift the chemical make up in the body and the brain gets a little chaotic. As a culture, we do not give women the time they need to heal and we rarely even acknowledge the hormonal shifts in men. For all parents, even for those parents who come into parenthood through other paths - adoption, surrogacy, foster parent - the hormones change, the instincts kick in and and there is a tidal wave of change that happens to routine, personal understanding, and prioritization. And far too often there is unsolicited opining from strangers, down right judgment from other parents and a dangerous imbalance of care and options across the socioeconomic landscape. The support needed to care of the mothers, fathers, and not just the babies is not currently a part of our general system. The days, weeks, and months postpartum are a sacred raw time. Unfortunately, however, we have been conditioned to 'make it through,' 'put on a smile,' 'post only the happy moments on social media,' and I, unknowingly, did all of these things. In hindsight, John and I were doing our best as alert and aware individuals. We were trying to be present, not perfect. But as time went on, the emotional rollercoaster was real and what seemed like the new normal was really us just treading water.
Was it full on postpartum depression, maybe? Was it trauma, maybe? Was it just new parenthood, maybe? Was it all of the above, probably. We went through a huge, unexpected experience to get my daughter and myself safely home from the hospital. We genuinely felt scared that I would not make it home. And whether that was founded or not, it was real to us. A fear of survival for a new mom sears itself into her psyche. For me, it became something I needed to unravel and to heal. Eventually, I did - we did. Long walks in Forest Park, meditations on acceptance and releasing guilt and fear, acupuncture, float therapy, a bone closing ceremony, care networks and community, all became and still are medicine
The light for us was always Josephine. Simple as that. No matter how dark and deep I'd travel into the caverns of my mind, I resurfaced with the smell of her head, the sounds of her coos, the smiles as they appeared. And milestone, by milestone, mile by mile, we became an inseparable team of love and silent wisdom. As my students have heard me say countless times, she has been my greatest teacher. The beautiful moments of Josephine to this day are the reminders of who and what we brought into this world. My work in this life is not only one of student, teacher and creator, but the work of becoming and evolving into "Mama." I suppose, as it has always been written in the stars.
So, you might ask, what does all of this have to do with my cesarean aforementioned in the title of this post? Well, needless to say our son's birth was directly connected to our daughters.
Stay Tuned for Parts 2 and 3... Coming Soon.